My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Development of High Anxiety

In the years after I was first diagnosed with bipolar illness, I would have a break and go into the hospital about every six months.  Eventually with the right meds I got to the place where I would have mini-breaks every six months and stay with my sister Jane and her family rather than go into the hospital.  This was during the days of Mellaril, Ativan and Haldol.  I would leave my apartment and take the subway to my sister Jane’s house about 25 minutes away.  Oftentimes this ride was a huge challenge.  I would arrive at Jane’s house with an overnight bag and some meds and put my belongings in the basement where there was a guest room.  I would spend between three and seven nights at Jane’s house where she would help me with administering meds.  In those early days, the anxiety associated with waiting for the meds to kick-in was excruciating.  I often requested to hold Jane’s hand as we lay in the bed until the medication had had time to sink in and sedate me. 

At that time, the meds for bipolar illness were not very advanced.  Meds seemed at that time to treat the symptoms of the illness rather than seeking to manage the illness before the break-through of mini or grand episodes.  I am forever grateful to my sister for allowing me several years of staying with her and her family every six months or so and managing though those mini-episodes. When I was at her house and under the care of Mellaril, Ativan and Haldol, it would take about an hour for the impact of the meds to sink in.  During that hour of sheer hell I would sit and smoke cigarettes nonstop waiting for the meds to kick in.

Since those early days of a mini break every six months, I have been prone to high anxiety which is often at times consuming and sits sometimes in the background, as a nagging reminder that I continue to struggle with my moods every day.   Managing the anxiety associated with bipolar illness has developed into my greatest challenge besides the reversal of stigma.  Perhaps pairing the management of this anxiety with a willingness to explore potential abuse as a child will make an impact on this generalized anxiety – hopefully reducing it substantially. 

I also have more recently added an additional medication Trileptal to help with the anxiety and this appears to be making a difference for me.

As an aside based on commonplace discussions, I have been told that family intervention for people with behavioral health diagnoses is much more common in Europe than in the US.  Just like our propensity in the US is to care for the elderly in homes for the elderly, we tend in the US to care for people with psychiatric disorders in a hospital setting.  Personally, I feel that the more care that can be provided in the context of the family and the family home the better.

Once again, my illness has developed in phases.  Early in my diagnosis were “grand episodes” including hospitalizations.  These ”grand episodes” gradually gave way to more “mini episodes” managed in the home with a few exceptions. In my postpartum period, I was back to having “grand episodes” and being in the hospital again for those first three to four years. 

As I became more comfortable with managing my illness and being a Mom, I went back not to having “mini episodes” but to having a general level of anxiety to manage at all times.  Goals but not necessarily accomplishments include daily meditation, daily exercise goals including walking and yoga and a daily commitment toward transparency in my faith and my diagnosis.

When You Have Anxiety….

When you have anxiety I am wondering what time of day that usually occurs or if there is a time of day that is most difficult with your anxiety? For me the most common time to experience anxiety is when I first wake up in the morning. I am always anxious about something as I awake. More recently it has been about will I have cancer. I am going through a series of tests right now for breast cancer and wake up worried about it.

Do you have a specific time of day when anxiety is most difficult?

I am letting go….

I am letting go of any childhood abuse I sustained between six and ten years of age. I recently have had an abnormal mammogram, an abnormal ultrasound and a request for an MRI for both breasts.

I feel like I am being called to let go of the abuse I experienced as a young child so that I can continue to heal particularly with respect to any sort of breast abnormality or cancer I may currently have or any cancer that is soon to be discovered.

I won’t find out for at least two weeks if I have breast cancer. My MRI is on June 17th. Until then, I will be working on forgiving those who I believe participated in the sexual exploitation of me and my body and my mind when I was six, seven, eight, nine and ten.

I release any perpetrator and give the abuse over to God as to how to handle those individuals and how to judge those individuals. The judgment is not mine to make.

Again, I will also be working on forgiveness to those parties with the main desire to move forward in my life in a way that is free from anxiety and free from these deep pockets of pain. I feel that by letting go of this abuse, I may be more able to forgive and more able to have an illness-free life going forward.

Thanks in advance for any support you can muster for me as I release this abuse to God and to the void. I no longer want to possess this experience and the anxiety and depression that comes along with it.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Life before Anxiety

I have limited or very limited memories of what life was like for me as a child and/or a teen before bipolar illness hit me in my twenties as a college student.   This is particularly true of my early childhood years before middle school. These memories before middle school are largely blank. They are not bad memories, per say, they are just not memories at all. Like a blank screen on a TV set — all images gone with little sound either. I am seeking to explore the lack of early memories as time moves forward and as my therapy progresses.

In high school, I was a typical over-achiever and straight A student.  I graduated at the top of my high school class and was voted by high school peers to be “the most likely to succeed.”  I had a steady high school boyfriend for my Junior and Senior years in high school.  My study peers were the Advanced Placement teens while my social peers were “the in-crowd.”  Somehow it was important for me to feel that I was part of “the in-crowd” rather than just being satisfied with my academic peer group. Most of my memories of high school are very strong as I was able to hold onto this vision of myself as “successful.” These memories are much more vigorous than memories from the years before middle school.

Most of my memory absence appears to be before middle school years. When I was in sixth grade, my parents divorced.  I tended to manage what I now recognize as what may have been anxiety and feelings of depression by becoming a great student and high achiever.  I felt somehow if I could be a straight A student, there was no wrong happening in my life and all was right with the world. 

My Dad remarried a short time after I transferred in sixth grade to a private school. When I was a Sophomore in high school, my Mom also remarried.   With both parents happily remarried, I continued to live life relatively anxiety-free or so it seemed.  I was a super student and a valued member of the cheerleading squad, the track team and the student council.  I was the top student in my Senior class and voted in as “the May Queen” by my Senior class peers. 

It was not until I arrived at Ivy College that I first experienced anxiety that I was aware of.  Suddenly everybody was as smart as I was.  Suddenly my coping mechanisms for stress – being the top in my class – seemed very very far away.  I took to studying all the time to keep my grade point average in the “A” zone rather than adopting an acceptance for “B” work.  This preponderance for “A” work I think was a factor in my inability to distance myself from the come-on’s and other subpar behaviors of my college thesis professor–  Professor Flannigan — during my Senior year.   The coping mechanisms I had adopted in my middle school and upper school years were inadequate for coping with the challenges in college days, particularly those challenges of my late Junior and early Senior year days.  Perhaps unlike many college students, in college I did not appear to grow out of or beyond coping mechanisms that were helpful in my younger years in middle and high school.    

In addition, it may have been that Professor Flannigan, untrained therapist that he was, was somehow trespassing dangerously into the “safe world” of that six-year-old child while that six-year-old child was striving desperately to stay on course.  Once again, Flannigan’s assuming to be a trained therapist or acting like one was likely very, very dangerous for me particularly if sexual or other abuse was present for me as a young child.

What has changed since college days? There is still a blank screen there where there should be early memories, but at least now I am in a place to work through those voids with a trained therapist rather than an emotionally immature egotist.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Managing Anxiety Then and Now

My daughter was born 16 years ago when I was 40 years old.  She is the light and the delight of my world, yet her birth marks a turning point in my illness particularly as regards my experiences of anxiety.  As a parent, my experience of anxiety has quadrupled or more over the years of being a parent. 

In years prior to the birth of my daughter, everyday life felt relatively normal between breaks with breaks or mini-breaks coming every six months or so each year.  After the birth of my daughter this scenario was replaced by a low to medium to sometimes high level of generalized anxiety all of the time.  This generalized anxiety now persists as my benchmark or my norm with little or few break-down episodes.

While I no longer have episodes that land me in the hospital or at my sister Jane’s house twice a year, I do maintain and live with a generalized sense of anxiety all the time.  In many ways my illness has migrated from severe to partially severe breaks every six months to living with anxiety on a regular basis.  The anxiety may also be the by-product of mixed moods – or experiencing mania and depression simultaneously.

The good news is I have become better at policing my environment and know those things that trigger my anxiety:   fears of safety, not being sure the house is locked or secure, not knowing the location of important things like documents in the safe or prescription medication, big parties where there is an emphasis on alcohol and drinking…. In many ways it feels like my bipolar illness has migrated toward including a combination of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety. 

But, I am not the doctor and as far as I know I am still diagnosed as having bipolar illness… 

As a parent as discussed, I tend to be hyper-focused on safety concerns for my daughter as well as for my family.  I tend to be extra vigilant about little things like crossing the street or being in a venue where alcohol is served or being aware of predators on the internet or elsewhere.

I also appear to have some short-term memory problems that I associate with a high dosage of meds over the years and/or over-active brain synapses.   These short-term memory issues continue to present challenges to me particularly in the workplace.  At times, I am challenged with finding a place for everyday things like a wallet or keys or cell phone.  It is also difficult for me to keep track of things of my daughter’s like phones, laptops, keys, etc. Each of these things has to have a specific place or I will become anxious in the not knowing.  The not knowing again is tied with the short-term memory challenges. 

These short-term memory issues have turned me into “a checker.”  Before leaving the house, I check routinely that the stove and oven are off and that other appliances are unplugged.  I have developed a checking routine for various appliances and doorways before leaving the house.  This level of “checking” feels important for me because of the memory issues but drives my husband and my daughter crazy.  

In general, I would say that the general anxiety that I experience currently presents my largest challenge in the management of my life including my role as mother to my sixteen-year-old daughter.  The anxiety is something that I face every day.  Being overly sedated so as not to feel the anxiety is one approach.  I am hopeful, however, that the medication I have been taking for the last 10 years will allow me to address that generalized sense of anxiety.  Perhaps also, this anxiety simply is tied with being a parent and all the worrying about things that that role entails.    Perhaps also this anxiety is due to unresolved issues of potential child abuse when I was six.

Prior to my daughter’s birth, I managed my condition with a combination of lithium and tegretol for ten plus years.  This was my regime when I had the mini breaks every six months or so that were treated with Mellaril and Haldol.  Now, I no longer have those mini break-through episodes, but I do have a sense of generalized anxiety a lot of the time.  The generalized anxiety appears for now to be the trade-off for no longer having the mini-breaks.   Managing through this generalized anxiety is my current mental health challenge.     I am hopeful as I get through to the other side of child abuse as a six-year-old, these anxiety symptoms will abate markedly. 

This has come up today

This has come up today in reviewing and updating comments from an earlier post of mine. It has been suggested that people who are accustomed to mental health and behavioral health issues may be able to empathize not just sympathize with people who are experiencing depression and anxiety for the first time due to covid-19.

Therefore mental health “veterans” like us may be able to help others in some small way. I am very curious to hear what those of us who are familiar with depression or anxiety might say to those who are first encountering symptoms due to covid-19 – likely situational depression and anxiety and uncertainty. These folks may not have clinical depression or clinical anxiety but that does not diminish the impact of what they are experiencing.

What might that look like if we were to reach out to those who are not familiar with or are new to depression or anxiety or uncertainty of all kinds?

Laughter really is the best medicine

A week or so ago, I played Monopoly with my 16 year old daughter. I was the banker and kept forgetting where I was keeping my money versus the bank’s money. My memory issues sometimes are a challenge. Based on this unwitting propensity of mine to “capitalize” on my role as the banker toward my own benefit, my daughter and I were laughing so much we were almost in tears.

I came away from the game feeling like somebody had just rebooted my computer (my emotions) and all the junk files and all the computer viruses (excess anxiety) had magically disappeared.

I don’t think it really matters for the most part what you laugh at particularly if you can laugh at yourself. For me, laughing at myself last week was some of the best medicine I have had in years.

What makes you laugh? I wish each of you a good laugh that does’t stop until you too are almost in tears.

A list for a rainy day (or any day):

I am creating a list of things I like to do:

  1. Put a balanced meal on the table for my family at dinner time – I am almost always successful in this except for our new “take-out night” once a week in the post-covid-19 era.

2. Keep healthy foods on hand for my family to eat for breakfasts and lunches. I typically do pretty well at this but I have a pescatarian for a daughter and she keeps me on my toes in trying to provide snacks and foods that meet her “high” standards.

3. Regularly count my blessings that I have not lost any one to the pandemic, that my family can eat and pay the bills. I have done this but need to do this more and more. There are so many people who have been hit harder, much harder than me and my family. Be thankful for the big and small stuff.

4. Play a board game with family – I have done this once since covid started and laughed so hard during the game of Monopoly I wonder why I am not doing this every day.

5. Take the dog for a walk. I have been doing this regularly for the last month or so. Feels good to get a little exercise and to engage my husband into doing the same.

6. Talk to my Mom over the phone each day to help alleviate her feelings of isolation and mine. She lives alone and we have only had two in-person socially distanced get-togethers outside her condo in the garden for twenty minutes each. I do this phone call to her every day. Somehow or another we find something new to talk about even when there is not too much new going on.

7. Plan a socially distanced get together with my Mom after my daughter finishes with the remote learning requirements for 10th grade. Have a barbeque or something outside where we can visit at 6 to 8 feet apart and include my 83 year old Mom. This planning is underway. We have talked about the inherent risks of a get together, but plan on keeping our social distancing up to minimize this risk.

8. Bake bread with my daughter. I have done this once during covid and it was great! Need to do this again.

9. Set up the tent in the backyard for a virtual camping overnight trip. This is just an idea at this point.

10. Watch a movie or TV series with my husband and 16 year old daughter. This has been happening every day of the quarantine. Go figure. While it is sometimes a little difficult to find a show that appeals to all three of us, we largely have done this. Everybody looks forward to this time after dinner each night – school night or weekend no matter. Sometimes I do popcorn.

11. Reach out to someone who is on the front lines of the pandemic. I have reached out to family who includes a cousin who is a nurse in the ER in Massachusetts. I also try to say thank you when I go to the grocery and the pharmacy and the lab to those who are coming into work these days and putting themselves at risk. I could do more of this – thanking and acknowledging people who are doing essential things.

12. Provide financial assistance to those who are short of food. We have made one food contribution so far. As soon as we get our covid-19 check we will plan to pledge a certain amount to a food bank in our area.

13. Play music that I haven’t listened to in a long while. Play music I used to like to dance to and dance if I feel like it. Have not done this yet.

14. Reach out to old friends by text or cell. I have done some of this but I could do more.

15. Blog on a regular basis. I have been doing this for a couple of months now. I feel I could improve my blog presence by including what I am doing to counter my anxiety and depression and bipolar symptoms more that just offloading these feelings in my blog posts.

16. Take a hot bath and think about nothing. I do this on a regular basis. I could add some bath salts to enhance the experience.

17. Plan what we will do as a family this summer. We have found out that my daughter’s camp will not be taking place this summer. We are uncertain of a trip for my daughter and mother to visit cousins in the UK. We are uncertain of plans to drive North to visit family. I could poll my family and ask what fun things they might want to do during a covid-summer if that is what we will have.

18. Journal and write notes about what I have been feeling and thinking about the pandemic and other challenges. I like to keep a handwritten account of what I am dreaming and/or concerned about. Right now I am most concerned with there being a second wave of covid-19 in the late summer or fall. Although I am not in a position to affect outcomes, it helps me to write down my concerns. Perhaps it helps me let go of anxious thoughts that I have no control over.

19. Consider buying a modest gift online to spruce up the house. I have not done this yet but usually feel very good when it comes time to decorate for Christmas and Easter. I like decorating. Perhaps I need to buy a new set of pillows for the living room or some other fun accent to keep it light and not be too expensive.

20. Plant flowers or herbs in the front yard. I have been doing this for five years since we moved into this new house and for as long as I can remember in the house before that. I enjoy going to Home Depot and getting flowers or herbs to plant on the front porch. It is a cheerful way to enter the house each time we go out and come in again. My winter pansies are pretty well ka-put and need a refresher at this point.

21. Talk with family and extended family each week using Zoom or something similar. My sister and her husband have been arranging this for us. I could learn how to host Zoom so as to do this once a week. So far, I have just been a Zoom participant.

22. Find a way to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from 10th grade in two weeks. Since schools are not open this is a challenge. I am just thankful that she is not a Senior in high school now with virtual high school graduation in the works. We often do a nice dinner out to celebrate good grades and end of the school year. Perhaps this will morph into a take-out celebration dinner.

There is a whole other list of things I “should” do like clean out the garage or clean out the junk room or organize my closet. I am not really doing the “should” list until it becomes essential like paying bills and doing the housecleaning.

I have not been doing that great – there, I said it!

My old old “friend”depression has been lurking about since Easter – about three weeks ago. During that time s/he has been competing with my other old “friend” anxiety. The depression and anxiety appear to be competing for the royal broo-hah-hah throne of my well-being. I have tried talking both depression and anxiety out of my life right now but they are very persistent with their need to be put first and for my well-being to be put second.

I certainly hope others are not being visited by these two “old friends.” If so, are you successful in asking them, – no telling them, to go away? Beat it?

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Being Ahead of the Curve

During my work life and career, I have had to deal with being (or feeling) ahead of the curve by about ten to twenty years. The things I like to think about – circular time versus linear time, matter and anti-matter, quantum mechanics or quantum physics, an equation to designate the development of time, new treatment protocols for cancer or behavioral health or HIV/AIDS, development of biofuels as a substantial source of our energy supply – all tend to surface at least ten years before the topic reaches the mainstream.   For example, I wrote three grants to the USDA to use farm and animal waste for energy back in 1999/2000.  (I did not get the grants.)  Biofuels did not hit it big until about 2010 (this is a guesstimate) and in 2020 are still not in widespread use as a way to process farm waste and generate energy.

In some respects I have gotten used to the ten year gap and do not have expectations that my thoughts and insights will be useful to society.  I also have recognized that throughout the course of history many people with certain thoughts are often not recognized during their lifetimes.  Knowing this helps me not to get too frustrated when my inroads go nowhere.   And then again, perhaps nowhere is where these thoughts are intended to go. 

This sense of “being ahead of the curve” may relate back to the imaginary thoughts of that six-year-old child within.  Just as with any young child, my younger child within believes that all things are possible including things that logic and reason cannot readily address.  That younger child within for example believes she may have developed an equation to characterize the passage of time.  As I have no training in that area of science or even remotely connected to that area of science, any work I might have achieved in this regard must be due to the imagination projected forward onto the page by that younger child within.  Regardless, science is needed to fact check any or all of these musings.

This sense of “being ahead of the curve” most likely requires a scientific approach to validate whether any of my early perceptions are valuable or truthful.  As mentioned before, I consider this younger child within to be almost autistic.  (My therapist has asked me to consider whether I feel I am on the spectrum.)  Therefore is it possible that certain impressions of that child within may lead to the ability to work out complex problems without prior training just as an autistic person can perform complex mathematic calculations without any training in higher math?

Also, I do not have much perceived anxiety in regard to these perceptions.  They are what they are and nothing further.  I consider them to be perhaps inspired by the Divine but in need of fact-checking by good science in order to move forward.   Until then they are just thoughts.

I am curious, do other people ever feel like they are ahead of the curve?